Learning Transforms But Continues Amidst COVID-19

Any innovation will add a new flavour to an already simmering cauldron. But, of one thing there can be no doubt - Schooling will never be the same again!

Way back in 1939, J Abner Peddiwell used the metaphor of the ice-age and stone-age to comment on education in his famous satire Sabre Tooth Curriculum. Probably now it’s time to flip the script, shed off the satire and don a new metaphor – 'education in the life and times of COVID' - where not just the tools, but the very tool room has changed!

When it became clear that it was no longer advisable or safe to go to school, when confinement became the new normal, and quarantine was not only meant for the sick but also the healthy, the school fraternity retreated to the safe confines of the digital dimension. 

Those in charge of education have not buckled under the uncertainty of intermittent opening and closing of its doors to its learners; instead they have created a new space on the back of this unprecedented situation. It is out of the binaries of chaos and order that the version 2 of online education has emerged. ‘Stay in touch - but no touch’ is the dictum. 

Now the distant dream of online education is being enacted as a reality on a day-to-day basis, transforming from a whim or a luxury to an imperative. WhatsApp, YouTube, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, CISCO Webex, Skype, Zoom, television channels, portals, websites, radio are some of the instruments that are enabling education provides to conduct online classes and share content. These are platforms are relatable to the younger generation who have grown in a world powered by technology.

Students across the country are attending school from their homes, and as can be gathered from several reports in the press, it's happening in state after state in India, across government and private schools, colleges and tuition classes. Even rural schools are no longer oblivious of this digital transformation taking place around them. 

The CBSE students appearing for board exams of grades 10 and 12 in 2021 are attending online classes on Zoom from their homes and are in touch with their teachers for any clarifications. SWAYAM TV channel by HRD is another repository of content being leveraged for grades 9-12. Delhi government schools, Mumbai Civic schools, Bihar government schools, etc. are exploring innovative ways of learning during the lockdown. 

The role of teachers is changing in a world where the world opens on a click and is accessible through a mobile phone. All kinds of learning activity harnessing the potential of social media and learning platforms are taking place. We are increasingly seeing examples of teachers recording their videos and sharing through WhatsApp, online story-telling, word and number games, quizzes, how to do to meditation, etc. to engage students in addition to live classes being conducted by teachers. 

This is an excellent opportunity to bridge the digital divide. But we need to be careful that we do not end-up deepening the divide. The differences could be more enhanced than earlier. Learning ecosystems which have implemented technology advancements will be quicker on their feet than those who have been casual and merely flirting with the idea. Not all learning systems would have kicked in with their respective solutions to bridge the disruption and resume classes at the earliest; nor for those who have already resumed classes online, will it be easy to shed off old ways of doing things; and finally there will be many students who would not be in a position to avail this kind of learning or adapt to this alternative learning style seamlessly. It is crucial to keep in mind that while we experiment freely with the mode, we need to us be careful of the content of online learning/instruction. 

We cannot add a learning crisis to the current health crisis and an impending financial one. Therefore, the need of the hour is to take a few immediate steps that can support learning. 

We shouldn’t suspend our schools, rather adopt a "willing suspension of disbelief" to flow with the tide. Education ecosystems should resume online schooling at the earliest, even if they do not have the perfect content or the ideal way of doing things 

It is critical to curate or to create content which is researched, authentic and digestible in learning nuggets following some basics of instructional design. There is a lot of relevant and good content readily available, made by curriculum experts which can be used. At this time, content curation rather than creation would be an expedient solution. Additionally, indigenously created content - quick short videos by teachers delivering lessons will also allow teachers to emerge as resource creators and address the learning nuances of their classrooms. It's also an excellent opportunity for students to experiment with peer to peer learning and create short videos of their own for their peers 

Some teachers may need help in navigating the online space, making it essential for education systems to create digital spaces where they can be supported with learning material and technology-driven pedagogy, along with tips and FAQs on use of platforms and tools. Enabling educators will have long-term benefits of catering to the Generation Alpha, for whom technology will be an extension of their being. 

On the back of this crisis, we could quickly strengthen existing or create new, online learning communities which can be organically populated; and state governments could push the DIKSHA portal as a collaborative platform for this purpose - beyond its current use as a resource sharing platform. 

Any innovation will add a new flavour to an already simmering cauldron. But, of one thing there can be no doubt - Schooling will never be the same again!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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